5 Steps To Become An Awesome Startup Mentor

When startup founders apply for financing in VC or accelerator, along with financial help, they want to obtain investors' advisory services. Despite "mentorship" is a well-known term in the startup ecosystem, founders are not always aware of what to expect during their meetings with advisors. Ideally, one of the primary mentors' tasks is to explain what kind of cooperation would be beneficial for both parties. Here are 7 steps to make the mentor-mentee relationship successful:

Step 1: Arrange a preliminary meeting

Сhecking personal fit is a must before starting any long-term relationship. Explain the founders that you need to make sure the startup is relevant to your industry and expertise. Request the founders' pitch deck and ask in which areas they need your assistance. In response, share related experience and explain your advisory capabilities. It’s essential to realize how relevant you are to each other before you start your cooperation.

Step 2: Organize meeting schedule

Startups require a different intensity of mentoring — it depends on the stage of their business. In the beginning, founders might need meetings once every 1−2 weeks. If a startup has already entered the market, once in a month might be enough. Discuss this detail with the founders, agree on regular meeting days and time slots, and add them to your calendar. Moreover, suggest to structure your check-point communication and ask for an agenda before each meeting. You can ask the founders to mail you a shortlist of questions they want to discuss a few days before meeting or stick to the same structure every time.

Step 3: Advice, but do not force

Remember, even though the fact that you are a mentor means that you are an expert in a specific topic, this title gives you no right to see your advice as a must-to-be-implemented by the founder. You shouldn’t push hard, just share your opinion instead and let the founders analyze it and make their own decision. Being an effective mentor is not about telling someone what to do. Instead, it’s about playing multiple roles to help the mentee to accomplish her goals. All advisors should present their viewpoints as one of the possible hypotheses to test. In any case, the founder is the only one who makes the final decision and takes responsibility for it.

Step 4: Support networking

Mentors usually provide the value of a wide professional network to startup founders. Advisers share their contacts from different industries and ask specialists for a recommendation required by a startup. It is very common to help with finding another mentor or match the founder with an investor in fundraising rounds. If the founders hesitate to ask you for this first, show your initiative and provide them with a valuable acquaintance yourself.

Step 5: Give feedback, but do not criticize

If you share some critical observations, do it mildly. Stay honest and open, but remember that harsh remarks prevent your message from hitting its destination. Support your judgments with industry numbers and cases from your past mentorship experience. Share your problem-related business insights gained through years of real-world experience. Attempt to avoid ratings based on your personal preferences. And remember that sometimes being a mentor means sharing critical business knowledge, while other times it means simply being a support system.

Bonus tip: don’t be a generalist

How you position yourself as a mentor determines the match quality of startup requests and your capabilities. Focus on your greatest competence and simplify your pitch. Forget about vague descriptions such as "deep expertise in sales, digital marketing, financial model building, recruiting, scaling, and fundraising."

Use more targeted identifiers based on your projects or current position, e.g. expertise in B2B Saas startups sales in the US market or assistance with a pitch deck and fundraising tips. Mentoring will become much easier, as you narrow down the range of your services and get targeted contacts, who need exactly what you offer.